In Chicago, Greta Van Fleet proves worthy of ‘Talk On The Street’
Ask any kid on campus who was raised on classic rock who their favorite upcoming artist is. I can almost guarantee they’ll tell you Greta Van Fleet.
A friend of mine recently took a networking trip to Los Angeles with a music-oriented student organization. According to him, our excitement is shared with record label executives and talent agents alike.
It may seem strange for a Frankenmuth-raised group of twenty-somethings to be the music industry’s most talked-about newcomer. Yet, Greta Van Fleet has been earning endless attention for lead-singer Josh Kiszka’s unmistakable similarity to Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. His twin brother Jake and their younger brother Sam contribute to the shtick by donning shoulder-length hair as they play electrifying guitar and bass by his side. Along with drummer Danny Wagner, the group released a highly-acclaimed double-EP in November, From The Fires, through Lava and Republic Records. Its accompanying tour is sold out in all 14 cities, including three late-December stops in Michigan (two in Detroit, one in Grand Rapids) upon which the band will conclude its current United States run. Something about this band has people chatting.
On Thursday, Nov 30th, I arrived in Chicago for the first of this tour’s 14 shows and rushed promptly to the 500-person capacity Lincoln Hall to assure my credentials were in order. Outside, dozens of gray-haired men awaited strangers who they’d negotiated with online to bypass the venue’s strict no-scalping policy, so naturally, the atmosphere was plagued by their fatherly conversations. For two hours, only half distracted by craft beers from the venue’s tiny bar, I suffered through proud quips like, “I haven’t been this certain about a band since I saw The Black Keys play back in 2005!” Clearly, the crowd wasn’t new to this.
Around eight o’clock, the crowd’s eagerness was (slightly) relieved by opening act Skywalker Man, a quirky group of piano, acoustic guitar and brass whose hipster, whispering frontman (using an antique telephone as a microphone, mind you) bore an uncanny resemblance to Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (particularly on “We Both Have Nothing To Fear”). Skywalker proved, quite predictably, to be more indie than rock 'n’ roll, an ironic pick for the sole opening act of a band boasting retroactive flare. I mainly used their time-slot to secure a front-row spot on the floor. Judging from those around me, such indifference was far from rare.
An hour later, the stage was finally cleared for its headliner, the venue at its maximum (though miniature) capacity, with one spotlight dramatically illuminating a logo on the head of the bass drum: “Greta Van Fleet,” written in the famous font of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” series. As band members took the stage, cloaked in carefully-selected floral blouses over skin-tight leather pants that aesthetically complement their 1970s sound, dozens of photographers finessed their ways towards the brothers. Their urgency offered a fleeting symbol of the band’s still-promising buzz, yet it was outdone by the few over-ecstatic female fans who promptly followed suit to plea for a glance from the Kiszkas.
Greta Van Fleet opened with “Talk On The Street,” an explosive jam that immediately shocked the room awake and allowed Jake and Sam to flex their superstar skills on strings. Starry-eyed Josh stood calm and collected at center-stage, half-slouching but barely moving as he reached deep into his throat to release roaring high notes. His lax choreography persisted throughout “Black Smoke Rising” and “Edge Of Darkness,” the former (a breakout smash) earning such an emphatic response from the audience that it became difficult to hear him. Josh then offered space for his brother, Jake, to explode on electric guitar.
Jake’s entire body sways with his guitar strums, the instrument seeming something like a natural extension of his body, so it was hardly unbelievable when he picked it up and played it behind his head. The stunt offered both further confirmation of the artist’s young-Hendrix status and a razor-sharp warning of his plans to be the band’s central focal point during performances. His brother, Josh, current frontman, is already defending the position, honing his emcee skills by employing weak humor between songs. However, it’s worth betting on Jake to become the Julian Casablancas of this gang — that boy and his guitar are one in the same.
“This song is about peace, love and unity,” Josh announced with a chuckling grin as the band led into their softer tune, “Flower Power.” When not singing, his voice is dry and almost unrecognizable, but as the song takes flight he adopts a lazy, bluesy drawl: “She is a lady, comes from all around.” Mere moments later, with Danny Wagner climaxing on the drums, Josh instantaneously switches to his shocking nasal screech that’s by now made the band famous: “Heeeeeeey! It turns to night, fire light.” It’s a roar in eerie parallel with artists who peaked well-before his own lifetime. “Star shines in her eye / Make me feel like I’m aliiiiive!” It’s what everybody in the sold out crowd come out to hear for themselves.
Greta Van Fleet’s setlist also included a series of unreleased originals that have become staples of their recent performances, such as the extra crunchy “Mountain Of The Sun,” the mellowed-out ballad “You’re The One” and the eruptively rockin’ “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).” Upon their completion of the latter, the band departed from the stage to prepare for an encore, their brief absence earning a mass beg for more, the audience’s chanting “Greta! Greta!”
The band saved fan favorites “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song” for last, so when they returned onstage, it was truly to reach for the night’s maximal energy level. Josh hit vocal peaks on the latter song’s introductory screams and, with their parents in the crowd, his twin brothers continued to shine by his side. At the drums, Wagner played them out in appropriately epic fashion.
The show concluded, and all 500 attendees surely set out to tell their friends about the band they’d just seen — a band that sounds “exactly like Led Zeppelin” and is “totally about to blow up.” So goes the story of Greta Van Fleet. At least for now.
Editors Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Jake and Sam Kiszka as twins. Jake and Josh are twins, and Sam is their younger brother. The previous version also incorrectly stated the band's November EP, From The Fires, consisted half of covers. There are only two covers: of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," and Fairport Convention's "Meet on the Ledge."